Monday, February 27, 2017

Executive Board February 27th--We Won't March Because We Don't Want to Offend Cuomo

Howie Schoor, Secretary, welcomes us.

Approval of minutes—Exec Bd. Feb 6 approved

Adcom Feb 17th—

Mike ShirtzerMORE  There is a motion for a stipend for NYSUT convention. How many delegates and why $617?

Schoor—You know how many there are. You run for it. 750. Some delegates don’t go. There is a smaller stipend for those who do not take hotel. We take it because there are 7 AM. In addition meals and transportation.

Adcom minutes passed

President’s ReportMulgrew is not here.

Staff Director’s Report—LeRoy Barr—Shares passing of union CL. Sabrina Cek. passed last week, is GoFundMe page to help with final expenses. 35 years old. Moment of silence.

Black History film series, going well, last one tomorrow.
Elementary school con. 3/11. Anniversary UFT founding 3/17. Para luncheon at Hilton. CL training 3/ 25-6. DA 3/22.

Question—Asks acknowledgement of special rep. Tom Talerini. Moment of silence.

Schoor—Questions—Makes hilarious joke about how questions seem so popular.

Arthur GoldsteinMORE  At our last meeting, I asked about the resolution to bring Regents grading back into home schools. I asked that it be moved up on the agenda so we could vote on it. The answer I received was that you would speak to the DOE about it after it was voted on. However, I did not ask whether you would do that. Again, I asked if we could move it up on the agenda so it could be voted on.

High schools traditionally have had that week as not only a testing week, but also as a week to catch up on midterm work, like grading projects. In my school, among others, a lot of teachers were required to do complicated midterm assignments, but got absolutely no time to grade them, as principals decided to hold classes or run class midterms during this week. This may or may not become part of a paperwork complaint I’ve filed, but meanwhile I’d like to see this resolved for next year.

At the last DA, like the one before it, this was not high on the agenda. I ask that we bring this to the top of the agenda at the next DA, I already understand your plans if it passes, and at this time I would appreciate a direct response to that request.

Schoor—We’ll take that under advisement

Mike Shirtzer—MORE—Update on IHS 145?

Rich Mantel--Had meeting with staff. Will support them. There was a rally. Was attempt by DOE to stop it, but proceeded, was on News 12. Meeting at school March 6th. Asking they become part of community learning schools.

Schirtzer—PEP tomorrow. Will ask they be removed from 3/22 PEP. Could UFT officers be there to make statement?

Mantel—We will see if they can be there. Success Academy already advertising they will have that space.

Schirtzer—We hear PEP is having conference call.

Mantel—We reached out to mayor, have not heard back, will try right now.

Marcus McArthurMORE—on Right to Work legislation—there is a committee looking into this—Can we hear a report back on how this will impact us, and are there plans for resistance? Are we coordinating with other unions on this?


Janella Hinds—We’re going to have additional conversations about this. Public School Proud is one way. We will be addressing them and you are welcome to join.

Schoor—Other unions asking us for advice, have reached out to us.

Jonathan Halabi—New Action—After Women’s Marches there was a sense of energy. Delegate asked when we could get back on bus. At this point there are specific actions. Where do we stand. People’s Climate March April 29th? That is particularly important place to demonstrate our concern. Week before, there are science marches. This contradicts some of the admin stances.

This coming Saturday there is a march in NYC for Educational Justice. Are we going to get involved with AQE?

—Send us info. AQE is group we donate to, but don’t march lockstep with them. They are planning TV ads against governor. This is budget season. We are focused on millionaire’s tax. 3 billion to state budget. We need to weigh that.

Ashray GuptaMORE—There is a coalition of teachers, students and attorneys who have six asks on immigrant rights. One they are excited by is our proposal for immigrant liaison. Ask for update.

Schoor—Has come up in our discussions. Parent liaison may be point person. City has been good on this. DASA passed in 2012 protects NYS students. Gives them forum if they are bullied or abused.

6:21 Mulgrew arrives.

Hopes we had decent break. Right now our focus is legislative session. Thanks A. Harmon and K. Allford. On message in Albany. Said first and foremost we have to protect education. No one can say what’s coming out of DC, but it won’t be good. In Albany we are holding well on millionaire tax. State has 3.5 billion deficit. Looking for old foundation aid, will give more money to students. Lobby day important. Carried interest loophole means hedge fund pay lower taxes. Sometimes it dies. They say rich people will leave NY.

They said all millionaires would leave as a result of tax, but there are now more of them. Let’s do it some more. Carried interest loophole Trump wanted to close, Ryan against. Mulgrew doesn’t mention Trump’s name. Many states against this, and we will push on this. Did press conference led by Jeff Klein. Will try to move this for additional revenue. Without it ed. is in trouble. With less state money feds have more leverage.

Working with other unions advocating for other legislation in case or right to work. Already a case identical to Friedrichs. We still don’t know what it means. Could some people be grandfathered? They could never get it through before. Will soon be 28 RTW states. GOP governors pushing even harder. Statewide, we have governor, mayor and our own grassroots. Our focus now must be strictly education. We cannot let public education fail. Thanks team.

Seeing this across the country. New Yorker wrote about hashtag #PublicSchoolProud. Want to use it for all unionized workers. We will continue to work nationally with AFT on all worker rights, have to get through legislative session in NY for when feds start shenanigans. That is agenda for rest of school year. Says that he has to go meet with CEC presidents.

6:30 Mulgrew leaves

Reports from districts

George Altomari—Successful program, SS conference on the 11th. Thanks President for attending. 20 presentations, great awards. Great afternoon. Gave 4 CTLE credits for teachers.

David Kazansky—Election mailings for teacher trustee Tom Brown are out. Should come to your schools. Asks petitions get signatures.

Janella Hinds—March 9th Future in Focus, college and career expo for HS students. For 10th and 11th graders.

Paul Egan—Lobby day next week March 14th. Encouraging people to sign up. DRs have links. Want to push education funding. Should be released, no CAR day, need permission. If you don’t show up you have to go to school or call in. Last DA we endorsed Bill Perkins. Happy to announce he has won. Called me to say he would be with us. Now vacancy in State Senate.

Schoor—What are major issues”

Egan—Budget, funding is important. We want interest loophole and millionaire tax expanded.

Grievance update—Ellen Procida
—Class size labor management committee met twice in February. Want to address class size issues long and short term. Discussed additional space, staggered schedules, schools at least four years out of compliance. DRs involved. Coming up with plans for each of these schools. Class size arbitrations will start March 1st. Want to come to agreement before arbitration. When school is reorganized, school ends and remedy ends. Remedy continues until we come up with something else, even if it is new teachers with oversized classes. We think that’s positive. We are waiting on specific plans. All the people who need to be part of the conversations are there.

We have APPR complaints for procedural objections. Winning 75%, and got a whole rating overturned. We can take 13% of ineffectives to arbitrator. We’ve been taking people with ratings based on harassment. Student sample sizes were so small we had them based on 3 kids. They were taken care of. If you have fewer than 6 kids, 23 teachers changed, without a hearing.

Para suspension arbitration is happening. Number of people not being suspended who would have been.

Jonathan HalabiNew Action—How many schools is committee looking at?


Schoor—now D-rated teachers can be part of 13%. Some principals are rating CLs D just to give them TIP.

We are adjourned.

Slippery Talk from Constitutional Convention Advocate

On Saturday I got a message from one of my members about this op-ed in the NY Daily News. It categorizes those of us who oppose it as purveyors of "alternative facts." That's the phrase that Trump stooge Kellyanne Conway used to rationalize outright lies on the part of the President, and it's got a useful ring when you wish to ridicule ideas. The writer ridicules Flanagan for overestimating the costs of a convention, offering no sources, so who knows whether or not that's true?

Personally, I doubt it, because the writer then launches into alternative facts of his own:

Another scare tactic being used to oppose the convention, this time by public employee unions that worry about threats to their entrenched clout, is the claim that a convention could vote to reduce their pensions. The protection for public employee pensions in the state Constitution cannot be eliminated without violating the contract clause of the federal Constitution, which bars states from rescinding contract rights.

Okay, let's grant this writer the possibility that the US Constitution says that. Personally I'm skeptical. If contract rights were so ironclad, how could Detroit have imposed one? And why would we need the Triborough Agreement? Perhaps the writer is correct, and contract rights are ironclad up until they expire. Of course, that doesn't explain how, in times of fiscal emergency, contracts are not necessarily enforced. I've been to many UFT meetings and I've heard about what happens in times of emergency. But let's grant the writer's supposition.

So our pensions are ironclad, given his statement, right up until our contracts expire. Then you're on your own. That doesn't sound so great, does it? Could it be that UFT pensions are only guaranteed until 2018, when our contract expires? Could it be that we're saved because of the Triborough Amendment?

The answer is none of the above, actually. Our pensions are not part of our contract, so whatever the US Constitution may say on the subject, the writer's point is nonsense. Someone is trafficking in alternative facts here, but it isn't the working people of New York State, it isn't the United Federation of Teachers, and it isn't those of us who've worked all our lives under the expectation that the pensions we signed up for would be honored when we retired.

I have my differences with UFT leadership, and I may in fact have mentioned them once or twice on this little blog. But misleading nonsense like this op-ed are just the opening salvo in what will be a long-term attack against the financial security for which we've worked all our working lives. This targets all UFT members and all state employees, whether new, veteran, or retired.

A few weeks ago, I conducted my first and only COPE drive. I recruited 78 members, 79 if you count the one who came to me weeks earlier complaining about the Constitutional Convention. And I may invite UFT in for lunch meetings to recruit further.. I don't expect to support everything that COPE does.

Nonetheless, I don't know of any other organization right now that's going to fight this. Whatever happens with this Constitutional Convention, I'm not gonna say that I didn't do everything within my power to fight it. I've contributed five bucks a paycheck for a number of years, largely because I thought it made me a little more credible as chapter leader. But I didn't ask my members to join me until this year. We need not look far to see what happens when pension promises aren't kept.

We face all kinds of threats, all the time. Sometimes the union is helpful and sometimes it isn't. But as a teacher, I'm all in. If you are, or if you think you ever will be, it's hard for me to understand how you could decline to fight this with every means at your disposal. Come November, if we win, it may be time to reassess this decision. But right now I don't regret it at all.

Update--I wrote the following as a letter to the editor:

I read with interest your op-ed advocating a Constitutional Convention in NY. The writer focuses on “alternative fact” and asserts that pensions will not be renegotiated because they are protected by contract and the US Constitution, UFT pensions are not, in fact, part of our contract. I’d have to assume, since pensions are an independent agreement with the state, that they are not part of other union contracts either. Therefore the writer’s assertion that unions oppose the Constitutional Convention to maintain “entrenched clout” is baseless. The writer either did extremely shoddy research or is himself a purveyor of alternative fact.

Arthur Goldstein, ESL teacher/ UFT Chapter Leader
Francis Lewis High School, Fresh Meadows NY

Sunday, February 26, 2017

In Which I Am Engaged by Another Great Unity Mind

I love when people just hand me a blog fully realized. On Twitter, I saw something about Chelsea Clinton running for office. Someone responded with something like, please, no more Clintons. I tweeted that and someone said, "I'm STILL with her."

I responded by saying I voted for her, but I was pretty mad about the terrible, terrible consequences of her candidacy. Another person, who claims to be the UFT rep for District 30, responded to my retweet with this:

Let's examine this. We'll put aside all the actual reasons Hillary lost, because they do not appear to concern this person at all. First of all, the epithet "Bros" is short for "Bernie Bros." It's a stereotype for anyone who supported Sanders. You see, anyone who says anything that doesn't support the Clintons must of course be Sanders supporters. They are, therefore, mindless thugs who just follow the crowd, to be condemned as a group, you know, like Trump does with Mexicans and Muslims, and much of the press does with teachers. I'm a little surprised to be paying this person to publicly indulge in stereotypes, but there's nothing in the Unity loyalty oath that says you can't.

I also love the "Take all the Bros with you" part. Can you think of anyone in the news who wants to just get rid of an entire group of people? I'll give you a hint. He has an orange face, a big yellow thing on top of it, and he is President of the United States. Historically, this whole getting rid of an entire group of people thing has had pretty bad consequences for many. But I digress.

It's odd that the tweeter blames me for the Trump victory, since I voted for Hillary. But what do I know? We Sanders supporters are all alike, and even if we voted for Hillary we didn't. But when I called the person on that, among other things, I got this response:

You see how that works? Why bother with free and fair elections? They just get in the way. That's why the Unity Caucus just changes the rules when they don't like the results. Opposition win a VP spot? Change the rules so the high school teachers don't get to pick their own VP. District Rep isn't Unity? Eliminate elections altogether and just pick any damn person you like.

I just want to remind you that Unity is the same caucus that declined to place Donald Trump's name in a resolution condemning racist acts around the country, among other things. They were loath to offend Donald Trump supporters. Yet this Unity Caucus member has no issue insulting and stereotyping those of us who are passionate about universal health care, a living wage, and affordable college. Evidently our greedy priorities, and not the failure on the part of Hillary to get out the vote, made Trump President.

I love it when Unity folk engage me. I'm here every day. Do your worst.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Six Hundred Seventeen Dollars (times 800)=Half a Million to Send 800 New Yorkers to New York

That's how much UFT will pay to send people to the New York Hilton for the NYSUT Representative Assembly on April 7-8. This is an important event, because there will be an election that will determine whether NYS Unity or Stronger Together controls NYSUT. We all have an interest in that because as UFT members we all pay NYSUT dues.

Of course we all know that Unity votes Unity, and approximately exactly100% of them will be doing just that. So given that, why are we spending half a million dollars to send 800 New Yorkers to New York? In fact, I live in Long Island. I could take a train there from work on Friday, take the LIRR on Saturday, and maybe see the whole thing for thirty or forty bucks out of pocket.

I'm hoping to go as press and write about it, which is what Jonathan Halabi, Norm Scott and I did at the AFT Convention in Minneapolis last summer. If my constituents can't have a vote, at least they can know what happens. I've made a few inquiries. Alternatively, I guess I could go as the guest of another union. That would be fun to write about.

So here's the thing--I'm one of seven people elected by 20,000 high school teachers, and as such I'd deem it my business to know what goes on there, Still, I haven't got a vote in NYSUT, and consequently, neither have any of us. Unless the majority of high school teachers want to give a blank check to Unity to vote Any Damn Way They Are Told, this is not what I'd call an ideal form of democracy.

But let's not dwell on petty politics. Let's take a look at what sort of deal this can be if you're a loyalty oath signer. So you get $617 to go to the convention. You take the subway there and back a couple of times. That's what, $11.00? If you live outside of the city, you add a round trip LIRR fare, and you're out around 40 clams. You've got $566 left over. This could come in handy if you decide to buy $14 beer at the Hilton, but really you could eat on the cheap and pocket $500 easily. That's pretty good pay for sitting around a five star hotel and listening to a few speeches.

Alternatively, you could give $150 each, save hundreds of thousands of dollars, and use it on the organizing that hasn't been done in decades, so as to preserve the United Federation of Teachers as an entity when Friedrichs 2 comes down the pike next year. And if you really want to save money, you could send one representative to vote eighty thousand times. Now it may not be sufficiently dramatic watching Mulgrew sit by himself and do that. Also maybe you need someone who can speak, so you send LeRoy Barr. That's a few subway fares, and then you have to cover the Staten Island Ferry for Mulgrew. Let's say you budget $1000 for both of them, and let them eat any damn place they like. Let them take cabs if they want to.

For this particular convention, I'm not sure I covet a vote. I'd probably lean toward Mike Lillis over Andy Pallotta. I'd choose activist Bianca Tanis over just about anyone. I can't think of any earthly reason why anyone would choose Martin "Buy NYSUT Auto Insurance Even Though Allstate Is Half the Price" Messner for any job more challenging than lifeguard at the car wash. But that's just me. Of course I've got no vote, just the great honor of paying dues. Whichever side wins (because theoretically, at least, it is a contest), the 20,000 NYC high school teachers I represent get no representation whatsoever (and thanks a lot to both caucuses for that).

I could see spending a lot of money to go somewhere if they were going to represent membership and deliberate about something important. I could see spending a lot of money if they were going to make decisions. But they aren't. They're gonna sit in some room, someone from leadership is gonna tell them how to vote, and they'll vote that way or no six hundred and seventeen bucks next time around.

A bunch of people go to the Hilton and pretend they're doing work. They go to meetings they're told to go to, vote how they're told to, and the preordained winners win. That's not a lot of bang for the buck, or more accurately for the 500,000 or so bucks. Given our share of paying for the common rooms, gala luncheons, and whatever the hell else goes on it will likely be more.

Perhaps leadership imagines this sort of thing will inspire all the Trump voters to pony up $1300 a year, as they'll be forever grateful we didn't mention his name when bemoaning his awful practices. On the other hand, maybe we could just buy them off and it would be a wash. But there are a whole lot of ways we could save hundreds of thousands of dollars that weekend, and a whole lot of better uses for that money.

Maybe, while we still have dues deducted from our paycheck, leadership should give some thought toward giving us a vote in organizations our dues support. I shall nonetheless sit while waiting for that to happen.

UFT Unity Response-- From Facebook: I'm a life member of nra and uscg retiree besides a social studies teacher. So you boys sound like a bunch of cry barbies .follow the advice of Ted Kennedy. " instead of saying " why say why not " and maybe you goathumpers will win an election and affect change.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Teacher as Savior

Yesterday I spoke of a forum I attended in the Bronx. An interesting conversation ensued between audience and panel about recruitment for TFA and Moskowitz Academies. Evidently the pitch is that children of color must be saved and only you, the students, can get it done. Oh, and also we can give you a job after you graduate up to your neck in debt.

There are a number of striking points you could make about this particular argument. One is that there are plenty of public schools right there in the Bronx, and if you wish to branch out there are four more boroughs nearby with kids who could use your assistance. Another is that working in an NYC public school still beats the hell out of doing test prep for Eva and watching your hapless kids pee their pants rather than pause one moment from studying. She treats those kids a lot worse than I treat my dog (and in fact I love my dog, treat him well, and take him out whenever he asks).

Then, as one of the panelists pointed out, it's not exactly within our means to change everything. You know, there's poverty, there are learning disabilities, there is environment, and there are newcomers who speak no English. And make no mistake, Eva talks a big ballgame, but she doesn't take the same kids we do. 100% of the students I teach are beginners. They are most definitely not ready for intensive bathroom-free test prep, and that's not to suggest that anyone else is. If Eva takes ELLs, they are certainly on a higher level. Special education runs the gamut as well. Just because someone has an IEP doesn't mean she's alternate assessment, like a group of kids at my school. Alternate assessment kids are not expected to graduate. We take them to worksites and train them for jobs, and their stats count against us at year's end. And, of course, self-purported savior Moskowitz has a reputation for dumping kids that don't help her test-score-based bottom line.

As for TFA, sure you can have them pack you off to anyplace in the country. Sure you can help poor students whether or not you've got training sufficient to work in a public school. Maybe you've seen movies like Freedom Writers, where the actress what's her name (who, in fairness, has been in some good stuff too) singlehandedly inspires kids and saves them from their otherwise miserable destinies. Then there was the movie with Michelle Pfeiffer, where I think she shot a gun off in class, or jumped out a window or something, and didn't get fired.

One really cool thing about these movie teachers is they invariably have only one class. That's convenient, because you can focus on the handful of kids being saved. Most teachers I know have 170 students, and are pretty busy with things like, oh, grading tests and lesson planning. In my school, located on this astral plane, we now have grading policies so ponderous that teachers can barely find time for anything else. And don't get me started on gym teachers who have different classes every other day and are expected to perform this nonsense for 500 kids. I don't know how they even learn student names.

Of course teachers are a positive influence. Of course teachers, next to parents, are often the very best role models for children. And of course sometimes teachers can do incredible things, and there are extraordinary teachers. I know real stories about real teachers who reach out and change lives. I even know one who did this for years, who was threatened with an ineffective rating from a supervisor who appreciated this not at all, and who died alone one weekend only months before his planned retirement. I don't suppose that would make a movie script, as the protagonists tend to be gorgeous young white women.

The really cool thing about the teacher as savior model is it takes almost everyone off the hook for just about everything. Problems with your kids? The teachers suck. Failing the class? The teachers suck. Not graduating on time? The teachers suck. Teacher calling your house? He should handle it himself, that's his job, and he sucks. Why can't he be more like Michelle Pfeiffer or what's-her-name from Freedom Writers?

Not only parents are off the hook, but so are politicians. Arne Duncan, or John King, or Barack Obama, or Michael Bloomberg, or Joel Klein, or Andrew Cuomo (all of whom send their kids to private schools), can get up and tell some story about how a great teacher can change a life. That takes them off the hook for crumbling infrastructure, lack of a living wage or affordable health care, and allowing both parents to work 200 hours a week each to make ends meet. The implication is that a good teacher can change absolutely everything, and politicians are suddenly responsible for nothing, It's a WIN-WIN!

Thus you devise ways to fire teachers, like value-added, you devise ways to vilify teachers, like attacking their unions, and you devise ways to blame them for every ill of society. You even try to make a few films that drop the whole savior routines and stereotype public school, making charters the hero. You gloss over the whole pants-peeing thing because it doesn't make for increased popcorn sales.

Here's the thing--we do the best we can, each and every day, under incredibly challenging circumstances. We choose to go out and work with America's children each and every day, no matter who they are or how they come to us. We're not asking to be portrayed as super-heroes, but we don't deserve super-villain status either.

I want to support kids and help them to be happy, but I can't do everything. Politicians need to do their part too, instead of simply taking money from rich people, making their comfortable lives even more so, and ignoring those of us who actually work for a living. And we need to hold their feet to the fire.

The best idea would be to make folks who run schools patronize them. If the schools you run aren't good enough for your children, they likely aren't good enough for mine either. If Bloomberg or Klein had to send their own kids to public school, they'd eye very different reforms than the ones they ended up enforcing. You wouldn't have kids sitting in trailers, eating lunch before 9 AM, herded like prisoners, running around outside because there is no gym, or going years without glasses because even an eye check is unaffordable.

With Donald Trump as President, with demagogues like Betsy DeVos and Eva Moskowitz pretending to care about all children but giving in to the backward moves of this administration, our jobs become even more difficult.

Maybe we have to be super-heroes after all. Maybe we can. But our super-hero status will have to bring us outside the classroom and into communities, where we will be truth-tellers. Truth-tellers are in very short supply here in 2017.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Fordham U and Me

Last night I was honored to be included in a panel at Fordham University discussing mostly the welfare of our students. There was great discussion from both the panelists and the audience. In retrospect, it probably would've been smarter to write about this before it happened so more people would know about it. But better late than never.

I had an interesting experience in listening to a Leadership Academy Principal who seemed passionate and sensible. He started to talk about how the system was designed for adults rather than children. I was thinking about disagreeing when he gave examples that kind of turned my head around. He said his teachers had a lot of trouble parking and it affected their jobs because they had to focus on nonsense rather than what they needed to do. It was the first time I heard that line used with explanations that actually supported working teachers.

A man in the audience complained that teachers used to call him when necessary, but now they called him all the time for no reason at all. Several of us on the panel were able to explain that teachers were now required to do parental contact, and that it was entirely possible they were sitting around on Tuesday Teacher Torture forced to make calls whether they were needed or not.

There were several questions about what we could do to change the system. Moderator Mark Naison made a plea for being crazy, and actually asked the students who the craziest teacher they knew was. I was struck by this, because I always pride myself on being the craziest teacher my students know. But I also believed that being crazy was a great motivating factor. It's what's helped me to help my school in a number of ways. You also have to be crazy to run for chapter leader. You have to be crazy to oppose the Unity Caucus. You have to be crazy to love your job no matter what the geniuses in Tweed, Albany, and DC toss at you.

There was also a lot of talk about overcoming fear and perhaps placing your job at risk. I don't know exactly when I stopped being afraid. When I first started this blog it was anonymous. I later started writing elsewhere under my real name. At some point I realized it didn't really make any difference. Maybe it was the day my principal walked up to me and asked, "Hey, what did you mean when you wrote this thing on your blog?" But it's liberating to lose the fear. If more teachers would find their way here we'd certainly be better off. 

I was recruited by my friend Aixa Rodriguez, an ESL teacher who shares my issues with Part 154 and how it hinders the instruction of the newcomers we serve. (You can see us on Telemundo talking about it right here.) I prepared some remarks, but as we went around the table I realized I was the only one who'd done that, so I spoke without them. I hate to write things and not use them, so I'll share my prepared remarks here. Hopefully I said the same thing off the top of my head, but somehow I doubt it.

My job is teaching newcomers English. It became more difficult last year because of a massive revision of Chancellor’s Regulation Part 154.

Evidently what I do is not effective at making students pass tests. It takes time to master a new language, and with every moment wasted doing that, there is content knowledge that students don’t grasp. Consequently, the whole test thing looks bad. It turns out that students who don’t know English tend to pass tests at a lower rate than students who do. Go figure.

One solution would be to send out people like me and teach newcomers English. But we’ve tried that, it takes time, and it doesn’t look good when it takes newcomers longer to graduate. Generally what’s done in cases like this is that everyone says the teachers suck and that’s why kids fail the tests. If Michelle Rhee were teaching my class, she’d take her magic broomstick and insert it in the exact place that would make them all learn perfect English instantly. But since she’s using her incredible gift to sell fertilizer these days, they decided to go another way.

NY State has determined this whole language teaching thing is overrated. So they’ve cut direct language instruction by 33-100% in favor of a new model. You see, what they do is take someone like me and place me in an academic class. While the social studies teacher goes over the Civil War, I magically make every student understand it. No more time wasted with “How are you,” and “My name is.” We’re going straight to the Battle of Gettysburg, which is important because it’s on a test somewhere..

So in the same 40 minutes an American student is supposed to understand the battle, my newcomers are supposed to do that and learn English. How is this achieved? No one knows, actually. We are just supposed to figure it out. We pair up with content teachers and hope for the best. In my school, we’ve paired up with English teachers so instead of the Civil War, our newcomers study
To Kill a Mockingbird or Hamlet. 

It’s pretty well known that language acquisition ability declines precipitously beginning at puberty. Young children are pretty much designed to learn language, and they soak it up like sponges. But high school students have it a little tougher. Taking time away from them to learn does them a great disservice.

Research shows the way to make students learn language is via high-interest and accessible subject matter. Giving newcomers three-inch thick biology books the day they set foot in the country is exactly the wrong thing to do. It’s really better to give them things just a little above their level, and no academic content-area textbook I’ve ever seen matches that criterion.

There are also other ridiculous regulations. I’m in the largest school in Queens, and we have only two classes of beginners. I know because I teach them. The regulations say that students must not be more than one grade level apart. I have no idea why. Thus 9th graders cannot be in the same room with eleventh graders. The smart thing, in a high school, is to group students by language level rather than age. But the geniuses who wrote Part 154 have other ideas. Where they come from is a mystery to me. I could understand not wanting to place an 18-year-old with an 8-year-old but this is overkill.

Were we to follow the grade regulations, I’d likely have one section of 65 and another of 8. In small schools the situation is worse. As Aixa can attest, no one knows what to do, and the ESL teachers run around like headless chickens trying to teach everything, and accomplishing little if anything.

This law reduces most ESL teachers into co-teachers. These are people who’ve devoted their lives to helping newcomers. I have young, smart and capable colleagues who are considering resignation because they want to teach English, not stand around in a classroom where their job entails supporting another teacher making all decisions about curriculum.

Worst, though, is the assumption that we don’t actually have a subject matter, and that the only way to teach English is via coupling it with academic content. Of course direct English instruction supports academic achievement. But there’s actually more to life than taking tests. We help kids figure out how to buy a pizza, meet a girlfriend, or take their grandmother to the doctor.

I’ve tried very hard to get this message out. Aixa and I were on Telemundo talking about it. I pushed the UFT to write and pass a resolution against it. But it hasn’t really caught on. I had reporters promise to write about it and never get around to doing so. And while UFT has passed the resolution, we’ve thus far taken no action whatsoever to back it up. I haven’t given up but it’s an uphill battle getting people to care about our kids.

Aixa and I told Betty Rosa to her face that this regulation was awful and why. She replied that there were good intentions behind it. We’ve all heard the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Somehow we’re going to have to show the NY State Education department that making up rules out of whole cloth is bad policy. We’re going to have to show them that we need research and practice based methodology rather than just good intentions and wishful thinking.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Where's the Beef?

There was an interesting piece on NBC News, which seems to have originated from Telemundo, with which they are affiliated. I'm a Long Island resident, and what caught my attention was that 25 employees had been fired for taking part in the Day Without Immigrants. The piece has since been corrected:

Telemundo 47 initially reported that at Ben's Kosher Delicatessen Restaurant & Caterers in Long Island, New York, 25 workers were fired Friday when they returned to work.

The restaurant disputed the report, saying in a statement, "In anticipation of 'A Day Without Immigrants,' Ben's Kosher Delicatessen Restaurant & Caterers, posted a formal statement to its Greenvale employees on Wednesday, February 15, expressing support for their human rights and requesting that they fill their shift as scheduled on Thursday, February 16."

The statement continued, "While some employees opted to participate in the walkout, several others chose to work and, as a result, the leaders of the protest put pressure on the others to walk out, even threatening physical harm to colleagues choosing to work their shifts."

As a result, the company owner "found this to be a cause for immediate dismissal of the employees who made the threats. All other employees involved with the walkout were, and still are, invited to return to their positions with the company."

On social media, representatives of Ben's now say there was only one employee who made threats and was terminated. They've fought back in the press getting favorable coverage in both Long Island Business News and Newsday. On my Facebook feed there's a pretty interesting discussion, and it's tough to come to a definite conclusion. It was a lot easier when it said 25 were fired.

It's more complicated now. I'm not sure, though, how you express support for human rights and tell people not to participate in exercising them. Also, Ben's has now revised its story about immediately dismissing "the employees who made the threats" and now says it was just one employee. A lot of this sounds very familiar to me. It sounds a lot like what people say when attempts are made to unionize.

We don't really know the full story here, and it's safe to suppose we never will. But I've heard lot of very similar stories about unions intimidating workers. In fact, I've even been accused of it. When I see supervisors breaking the contract by demanding teachers do things they have no right to demand, I've been told that teachers were afraid to do their jobs. It's odd, because the most I cause trouble for working teachers is never. I'm at my job an hour or more before I need to be almost every day. It's often the only time I can work uninterrupted. But just because I'm crazy doesn't mean anyone else has to be.

I guess it's a fair assumption that these workers are not unionized. Under NY State law they are therefore "at-will" employees who can be fired for pretty much anything under the sun. Or they can be fired for no reason at all. Health benefits? Not necessary under NY State law.

I've got an issue or two with union leadership, and I may mention it on this page from time to time. But no one I represent will be fired for taking one day off. No one I represent needs to fight about it, or intimidate anyone toward any political point of view. Unionization is an uphill battle in an environment like this, where you can lose your job for taking one day off, and that's true whether Ben's fired one person or 25.

Ben's has argued that their PR person is an immigrant. That's fine, but it's an appeal to authority rather than addressing the issue. They've argued that their leader is politically progressive. That's another appeal to authority. Where's the truth?

It's probably somewhere in the middle. One of my students approached me and told me she would not be in on that day. I respected that and excused her. Of course, you could argue that this didn't affect my bottom line. Of course, my bottom line is way closer to the bottom than that of a man who owns seven restaurants from here to Florida, and I can't imagine closing one day would move his anywhere near mine.

I'm prejudiced toward working people, and also toward immigrants, who I serve every day of my working life. I'm also becoming increasingly prejudiced toward food I prepare myself at home. I'll have to give a lot of thought before I go back to Ben's.

What do you think?

Monday, February 20, 2017

Something's Fishy in the USA

How does Fox News hook people and keep them hooked? And why can't anyone on the left manage to do anything remotely close? These are tough questions. I've read entire books that try to answer them and come away still shaking my head. What worthwhile endeavor on earth can working people expect from Donald Trump?  Sure, he'll stand there and say he cares about you, but he doesn't precisely put his money where his mouth is. In fact, it looks more like he puts his money where his money is.

How do coal miners watch him spend millions of federal dollar weekending at his 200K per head Florida resort and think, "This guy is gonna make my life better"? Well, here's a guy who keeps a life-sized cardboard cutout of Donald Trump and wishes him well each and every day. I wonder if he drives with him in the HOV lane.

Anytime you have fanatical ideologues you will hear things that amaze and disturb you. Their religion is the best. If you don't join, you're going to hell. Their ideology is the only one that's right, and it doesn't matter if their leaders are wrong. So what if they live in a golden penthouse while you live in a shack? That's just a temporary thing, and any day you'll be living in a penthouse too. That's why it's wise to keep taxes low for the rich. Sure, it's inconvenient now, but you never know.

What was really stupid was getting rid of the Fairness Doctrine, which eventually enabled Fox News. Now people can sit in front of it and tell themselves how smart and cool they are. Oddly, when I was in East Berlin in the 80s, they sold Pravda on every corner and no one bought it. If the folks running Fox ran Pravda the wall would never have come down.

I can't watch Fox for any length of time without hurling things at the television, a practice my wife very much frowns upon. Also, I have more than enough things to go crazy about in my real life, and I don't really much need any more. One of them is Donald Trump. I literally wake up in the middle of the night, think that he's President, and can't get back to sleep.

I'm not sure what exactly you need to believe to be a Trump supporter. It's hard for me to understand xenophobia, as I work with kids from every corner of the earth and it's one of the greatest joys of my life. But we're afraid of what we don't understand. When I see, "Make America Great Again," it looks very much like, "Make America White Again." I don't like to assume that people are racist or bigoted, but it's tough for me to imagine they aren't.

What the hell is it that this man does well? He can't open his mouth without jamming his foot into it. He watches crap about Sweden on Fox and all of a sudden the whole country is on fire. Politifact has him at 50% false. I don't know about you, but I don't find that remotely inspiring in a leader. And his famous thin skin, which causes him to criticize the press when it dares to tell the truth, is particularly disturbing.

The very worst thing about Donald Trump, though, is that his need for adulation could easily provoke him to war. That's the best way for him to rationalize doing what he wants to do, and making it unpatriotic to criticize him. I don't actually think he'll select China, as he and Ivanka make money producing their cheap crap over there. But you never know--he could decide he needs the press to shut up, and may think martial law is worth producing Donald Trump ties in Bangladesh, or even (perish forbid) Mexico.

Americans have already died in the service of Donald Trump, and I see no evidence that he wouldn't send thousands of our young people to the same fate in order to comfort his sensitive ego. Hopefully even the GOP will see what a bad bargain it's made and remove this dangerous evil clown from office sooner rather than later.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Best Catch There Is

I'm a big fan of Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. I don't know how many times I've read it, but it really sticks with me. Catch 22 says that you have to be crazy to fly army missions when people are shooting at you. You can't fly when you're crazy, of course, but no one knows you're crazy until you report it. But once you go and report that you're crazy, you're showing reasonable concern for your life, and you therefore can't be crazy. So you have to fly.

I see absurdity in a lot of places no one else does, and it's sometimes problematic for me. I might start laughing out loud in a meeting where no one else sees anything funny. It can be embarrassing. Heller, I think, saw what I see, and he saw it in everything. He presented his view in the setting of WWII, but human behavior is consistent in many settings, including NYC schools.

A memorable character was Colonel Cathcart. I see this character in a lot of people. He was obsessed with his image, and reduced pretty much everything to "black eyes" and "feathers in my cap." What made him look good or bad to his superiors? There were simply no other considerations for Colonel Cathcart. To me, he's a metaphor for the NYC DOE, forever focusing on how it can look good. (Ironically, just like Colonel Cathcart, it usually doesn't.)

In September, the DOE sent out a grading manifesto, stating that grades had to be largely mastery-based, and that participation grades had to be more closely regulated. In fact, my practice of giving a participation grade based on my memory each semester was specifically prohibited (though in retrospect, I gave one every marking period, which was not). Also, my practice of giving full credit for completion of homework was out. I felt they balanced one another out. A student could easily earn credit for completion of homework, but said student needed to actually do something in class to do well in participation.

But hey, the DOE, in its infinite wisdom, thinks it will look better if I drop these nefarious practices, so I did. My department now gives a higher percentage for graded homework than for homework that requires completion. Actually I'd already been doing that by assigning more weight to homework I sat and graded, but rules are rules so I'm doing it the other way.

An issue in my school, though, has been with participation. We've been instructed to come up with rubrics that clarify what participation is. I guess that's fair. I can't just say I'm giving you a zero in participation because you stink. I'm a language teacher, and whether or not you stink is not necessarily the best indication of how well you use the language. So I made a pretty simple list of what is positive and what is negative, and that's what I use.

Not everyone I know did that. Some people have really complex rubrics. Now here's the thing with a rubric--it's a measurement tool, but if you ever want to get anything done you can't specifically refer to each and every factor. For example, when I graded essays for the Regents, I tended to be in sync with most of my colleagues. But I recall one former colleague who used to agonize over every step. When I was completing my second stack of papers, she'd be looking at paper number two or three, meticulously matching each category to each paper, and doing ponderous calculations to reach her conclusions. She'd also criticize my grading every step of the way. Now maybe she was a better grader than me, but since she never actually finished grading a class we'll never know.

I spoke to a young teacher who'd just spent 90 minutes inputting his participation grades for the day. I told him he'd set an impossible standard for himself. He just shrugged, and said he'd consider revising his rubric. Several departments in my school are demanding weekly participation grades. I suppose parents could call and complain about participation grades or their frequency if they wished, though it's never happened to me once. I also suppose this whole process is the brainchild of some bureaucrat obsessed with black eyes and feathers in his cap.

Another thing Colonel Cathcart liked to do was raise the number of dangerous flying missions. Every time his men reached 20 and were ready to stop, he'd raise it to 30. When they hit 30, he'd raise it to 40. I feel like that's what's being done to teachers. Now that you've done this thing, do this other thing. Follow the Danielson rubric. Go to a teacher team meeting, without which Western Civilization will grind to a halt. Take PD, but not this kind, that kind, and by the way, screw you because we're not offering it. Go to some school to grade Regents exams that aren't yours, and stand outside in 20 degree weather until we're good and ready to let you in. And no, you can't drink water while you grade, and you need permission to go to the bathroom. Sorry, the pass is out.

It's just that somewhere there's a line. Not everyone is as crazy as I am, and sometimes leaders go over it. In fact, it happens often, which is why we lose so many teachers. In my school, I've filed an excessive paperwork complaint about the participation requirements. I think teachers are the best judges of when grades need to be issued and why. I do not believe this barrage of regulations and requirements is improving education for anyone.

I don't want to be Colonel Cathcart, and I don't want my kids to have leaders like him. I understand such leaders are around, and I also understand that people with this mentality might be drawn to administration. But those of us who love kids and wish to support them, especially when they become working people, need to leave them a better world. To do that, we're gonna have to work to keep nonsense to a minimum.

That is one tough job.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Stronger Together Minus Jia Lee=Neither Stronger nor Together

Stronger Together is a caucus of NYSUT that began when former President Richard Iannuzzi was unceremoniously overthrown by Mulgrew three years ago. A lot of locals didn't much like being told by UFT leadership who could and could not run NYSUT. The officers being overthrown ran against the Mulgrew-selected ticket, and PJSTA President Beth Dimino recruited MORE to represent UFT in the run against NY State Unity.

I thought it was kind of cool that Hillary used their name in her campaign. It was pretty cool to see Stronger Together written in big letters on her campaign jet. Back when she was a sure thing, I thought maybe they'd follow in their footsteps. Now that I know exactly what she was a sure thing for, I'm afraid I was right.

As of now, Stronger Together is running a new ticket, once again with only four candidates. My caucus, MORE, was affiliated with Stronger Together for the last few years. The MORE rep for ST reports being treated very poorly by them, being told that they were union presidents and he wasn't, and was somehow not on par with them. I have a little experience with union presidents acting superior to mere members, so I don't find that too hard to believe.

When I realized that Stronger Together was running four people against five, I saw an instant solution to my problem, which is that they have no UFT representation whatsoever. They could run Jia Lee, who bravely faced an uphill battle against Michael Mulgrew last year. They could run James Eterno, who got the majority of high school votes for High School Vice President, but who isn't VP because UFT Unity rigged elections precisely so he couldn't win. They could have run a hundred different UFT members. But they didn't ask any of us.

That's because their election process entailed sending an email, putting a post on Facebook, and then having 12 people decide who would run. I discussed it with Eterno a month later, but we evidently made the assumption that someone would contact us. We were wrong. So then the question becomes this--Why didn't Stronger Together solicit a UFT candidate for their ticket?

The answer could be they assumed there was no interest, which is what they told me. However, I know Michael Lillis, the Presidential candidate, to be very smart. I don't believe for a New York minute that it didn't cross his mind to call Jia, or James, or me, or anyone at all in UFT. What I believe is that his caucus thought being affiliated with us would hurt their chances of the fusion ticket they so much wanted to create with Unity. I have no idea why Unity would not have noticed our previous affiliation, or indeed why the hell they'd be motivated to do any sort of fusion ticket. Of course they did not.

Once that happened, Stronger Together decided to run their four-person ticket. They could have easily added a fifth, but chose not to. So in the virtually unimaginable scenario that they win, it will be four of them and one of Mulgrew's. Of course it wouldn't be Andy Pallotta, who seems to be the only UFT member running. Now that would be kind of cool, as UFT leadership would be frozen out of NYSUT in at least some small way. Their enormous voting bloc would mean nothing whatsoever, and they'd actually have to listen to someone for a change. In the era of Brexit, and Donald Trump, you'd think such a miracle could take place.  Now I often love miracles, but the ones taking place lately have not been the sort that I get excited about. So I'm not precisely holding my breath for this one.

So the question remains why ST didn't reach out for UFT representation.  Could their negative relationship with a single MORE member have led them to stereotype us? I don't think so. Lillis is smarter than that. Could it be that it did not occur to Michael Lillis to pick up a telephone and look for UFT representation? I doubt it. Could it have been that they were so giddy over the possibility of getting a few cool gigs via that fusion thing with Unity? Maybe.

But whatever it was, the egregious error of ignoring the largest teacher local in the country, with 28% of the total members of NYSUT was a very bad idea. It shows a fatal lack of forethought and consideration and fails to sufficiently differentiate them from the machine they're facing. Maybe they'll come to their senses after they lose, and maybe they won't, but their lack of vision right now is nothing short of appalling.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The New Student

In our school, we've looked at the new Commandment from the DOE directing us to work out a grading policy. This has been problematic for a lot of us. Some departments are saying students must get a participation grade every week, and are demanding rubrics for how we do it. This is because, as we all know, the pigs that built their homes of straw and twigs had their homes blown down by a big bad wolf, but the one whose home was built out of rubrics managed to save his bacon.

I've walked around the building, and I've looked at a lot of rubrics. I've actually seen a lot of teachers who have systems in which they are grading students each and every day to decide on a weekly grade. To me, that is excessive paperwork. And furthermore, it's idiotic to judge each and every student in the same way. For example, my new student did not say a word all period, but meticulously researched the questions I'd asked online. I tried to get him to participate, but he wasn't having it.

Now here's the thing. There are a lot of ways to rate participation.  I love when students jump up and
down to answer questions. But not everyone does this. My new student, for example, was pretty much glued to the computer. Now I did try and talk to him. I explained that every week or two I was going to give a participation grade, and that he couldn't just sit around waiting. He didn't really respond, but he looked a little sad about it. I hope I didn't traumatize him.

Aside from him, there are a lot of other issues. Now you can certainly ask teachers to judge each and every one of their 170 students each and every day. And perhaps because there's a rubric, some people may believe that makes things fair somehow. I don't. One reason is because I see things differently than some of my colleagues. I do not believe for one moment that I would give the same grade they would, even using the same rubric. People do not look at the same thing and see it exactly the same way. Otherwise we wouldn't need elections, for example.

If they really want students to get identical grades for identical behavior, they should realize Bill Gates' wet dream and assign computers to teach classes. There are several tangible benefits to that, other than Gates potentially dying from a massive-orgasm-based coronary and thereby instantly improving American education.

Once we have actual computers teaching classes, no one will be able to blame them when affluent students excel on tests and less affluent students do not. We'll finally have absolute proof that test scores demonstrate zip code more than anything else. Maybe when boredom becomes as pervasive as it can be people will even begin to appreciate teachers.

Meanwhile, though, there is that bunch of teachers are dealing with the odd requirements by rating performance absolutely each and every day. I have no idea how you do that and teach. For example, I try not to rate more than one thing a day. If I give a homework assignment I have to grade, I don't give a quiz, and vice-versa. On days I give tests, I don't give homework. It's going to be very, very hard to do this job if we have to grade participation each and every day and then do everything else we have to do.

Sometimes I think they wait until we're just on the edge, and then they dream up some new thing for us to do. I wonder how teachers not as crazy as I am will survive, and indeed a whole lot of them disappear rapidly, even in a relatively good school like mine. Personally, I think my new student could plan equally well as some of the great minds at Tweed.

Of course they don't actually do this job, so this stuff is all fine and dandy with them.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

They're Reading the Blog

After I posted this, UFT put up this tweet, pretending that Mulgrew does social media. That's progress!

What's in an Aim? (Revisited)

I've heard from various and sundry administrators that there must be an aim for each and every lesson. I do write one, as supervisors are always fiitting in, out, and about, but I've never agreed that it was necessary. For one thing, I don't like to brag, but I'm a high school graduate. The fact is I never saw a single one when I was in school. When I taught college, where such things are not mandated, I never gave a second thought to bothering with one.

I've written before that an aim, if I didn't know what I was doing, would not clear it up for me. And if I do know what I'm doing, reducing it to an aim is unlikely to make it any clearer. I now have a co-teacher, and we have dueling approaches to what constitutes an aim. I'd say that neither of us is wrong, but of course, being me, I tend to favor my approach. I suppose I wouldn't have been using it otherwise.

I actually have multiple goals when I design a lesson. One goal, to be quite honest, is to trick the students into achieving said goal without having them realize what they're doing. That sounds a little complicated, but it really isn't. I'm a language teacher, and if you observe the best language learners, they happen to be babies and small children. They don't have any aim written on any board. They just soak up language like sponges, and they do it automatically without any prodding whatsoever.

I can't mirror that exactly, of course, and my students are teenagers. They haven't got the language learning capacity of small children, but they're still a lot closer to it than we plodding, miserable adults. I can speak Spanish fluently, having spent a few summers in Mexico, among other things, but I learned almost nothing in high school Spanish. I remember an entire year memorizing the preterite, and being completely unaware that it was past tense. The teacher never saw fit to mention that. Who says preterite for past tense?

I try to teach via usage. I ask questions. I make students question one another. I write and steal little stories. I have a picture story that teaches past progressive, e.g. I was driving to work yesterday. There's a story about a student who was thinking about difficult final exams and got into an accident because he wasn't focusing. So the aim I came up with was, "What were you doing?" As a DO NOW, another requirement for which I see little need, I ask, "This morning at 6 AM, I was driving to work. What about you?" This forces my students to use the structure, and also relates it to their lives.

My co-teacher, on the other hand, writes the aim, "How do we analyze a story?" Her argument is that this is the sort of language they might need to use in college. I suppose you might see things like these in Common Core Standards, tantamount to the Ten Commandments. You see, in the unit plans, another exercise without which I could teach just as well, you have to reference standards. Using her aim, we could reference high school standards. Using my actual goal, which happens to be correct language usage, we have to go all the way back to second grade standards.

There are a number of factors that make us think differently. I can see the validity in both arguments, but I also very much favor simplicity whenever it's possible. Just because my professional life is mucked up with frivolous and redundant complications, that's no reason to pass them down to my students. When rules are tossed in front of me, it's my inclination to find ways I can work with them, and that's what I do. I can freak out and jump up and down about some things, but not all of them.

I do not believe in concepts like rigor. I believe in joy, and finding what makes you happy. I have nothing against hard work, and I do plenty of it. But making things complicated or difficult for the sake of making things complicated or difficult, well, that's just stupid. As a rule, I oppose stupid. I don't think it's my job to prepare kids for lives of tedium and drudgery. I think it's my job to help them learn English, of course, make them love English, and also to try and awaken some spark that makes them love being who they are. I want them to do something that they love. What makes me a good role model, in my estimation, is that I've found something I love to do and so can they.

Now I'm sure I'd have no place in a Moskowitz Academy, where they test prep until they pee their pants. But hey, until Charlotte Danielson's insane rubric and the crazy tests on which I'm rated get me bounced from this job, I'm gonna keep doing it the best I can. I hope I help some kids along the way, because whatever we end up writing on the board, that's my real aim.

Monday, February 13, 2017

UFT Message in Times of Right to Work--Do As I Say, Not As I Do

I was struck at last Wednesday's DA by Michael Mulgrew's multiple references to the AFT Executive Board. Evidently this is an important meeting for some reason. Maybe it's because so few of us are privy to it and we need to know Mulgrew is. Or maybe it's because, as he says, Michael Mulgrew manages to make contact with various local union presidents, and is thus able to share the Union Loud and Proud, or Public School Proud and Loud, or whatever he's calling the most recent iteration of his feel good about union campaign.

Why do I find this interesting? Well, I've been on the UFT Executive Board for a little over five months, and I can't help but notice how relatively unimportant his own union business is. Unlike Mulgrew, I've actually attended every meeting. And unlike Mulgrew, I try to come in the beginning and leave at the end. I have been late a few times, but not by design. On the other hand, Michael Mulgrew shows up when he feels like it, if he feels like it, with no regard whatsoever for the agenda. He interrupts whatever is happening, no concern of his, gives a short talk, and then walks out. He participates and interacts with the board not at all.

Why should the President of the United Federation of Teachers concern himself when members have issues? Why should he worry when we are under attack? Clearly he has more important things to do. Why should he have to listen to opposition voices democratically elected by the high school teachers? That's not a priority of his, and that's why he's never emailed us, spoken to us, or perish forbid, met with us. The high schools didn't support his caucus so screw them, he's taking his ball and going up to the 14th floor, where they do whatever it is they do up there, and that should be good enough for anyone.

It's odd that the Executive Board meetings are run by the Secretary. The equivalent meetings in my school, with our consultation committee, are run by yours truly. Can you imagine a chapter leader calling meetings, saying a few words, and then being so disinterested he just walks out and leaves it to the members to work out whatever it is they're there to work out? Can you imagine a teacher coming into a classroom, saying a few words to the kids, and then walking out to do whatever? Can you imagine the consequences of such behavior? I see rubber room.

Of course, you and I are lowly teachers. We are not union presidents. But if we were, in any union but the UFT, we'd have to run our own Executive Board meetings. Members would not put up with our saying we're too important to participate. But in the notoriously top-down UFT model, no one even knew what the hell went on at Executive Board meetings until upstart bloggers went and got elected. Now we write about it, and if I recall correctly, Michael Mulgrew has not spent more than thirteen minutes at any particular meeting. That won't change, because UFT leadership already does everything right and their being wrong is not within the realm of possibility, even when they contradict themselves. I don't know about you, but that reminds me of Donald Trump. 

Let's pivot for a moment and discuss social media. Mulgrew loves to talk about social media and how fabulous we are at it. He loves to point to what's-his-name, whoever it is who runs it for the UFT. He loves to tell us about the power of hashtags, and how we should use this one or that. In fact, I sometimes get email notices to please tweet this or that, and I usually comply. On several occasions the tweets suggested went beyond 140 characters and I had to edit them to make them fit. Of course, that wasn't leadership's fault, because nothing ever is. It certainly wasn't Michael Mulgrew's fault. How do I know this?

I know this because Michael Mulgrew has no presence whatsoever on social media. I'm on Twitter and Facebook, but he isn't. Don't we lead by example? Isn't that fundamental? Not in the United Federation of Teachers. Of course, just like I can't read the tweets or posts of Michael Mulgrew, I can't read his mind. But I certainly know that he doesn't wish to interact with lowly members like me. If he did, he'd be on social media. If he did, he'd answer my email. This he does not do, and that's why, on the extremely rare occasions I email him in my capacity as chapter leader of the largest school in Queens, I copy them here. That way, I know someone reads them.

The Mount Olympus style of running the UFT is problematic. It is certain to become much more so when dues become voluntary, an inevitablity that Mulgrew acknowledged at last week's DA. It's disgraceful that the President of the United Federation of Teachers sleepwalks through his fundamental responsibilities, conveying the unmistakable message that he's too important for us. That's something he could easily change.

But you know what? Micheal Mulgrew is never wrong, UFT leadership is never wrong, and they will thus hang tough. Too bad, because that never works, not for him, not for them, and not for us either. And let's not forget what directly brought us to this point--the blind and unquestioning support of a candidate who couldn't be bothered to do more than pay lip service to the needs of working teachers and working Americans. Hillary was too cool for school, Mulgrew is too cool for school, and for those of us in schools every day of our lives, teachers and students alike, that model is an abject failure.

If you're not learning you're dying, and I've seen precisely zero evidence of learning on the part of ever-autocratic UFT leadership.

Friday, February 10, 2017

DA Takeaway--I'll Sit While I Wait

This was one of the more colorful DAs I've attended. Of course the surprise appearance of Bill de Blasio was largely what made it that way. But there were a number of other noteworthy occurrences.

There were Michael Mulgrew's claims of victory over Betsy DeVos, though with her sitting as Secretary of Education this victory was not easy to understand. I'd also argue that there were a lot of parent groups involved in this fight, and a lot of voices that we are sadly not quite in sync with. If there were any victory, moral, pyrrhic, or otherwise, it was not solely ours.

There were several references to us getting every dime of retro pay, and much praise of Bill de Blasio for coming to agreements with 98% of city unions. If Bill de Blasio is reelected, I believe we will get every dime of retro pay, but that's not a done deal just yet. I think the winds of change will allow de Blasio to essentially run against Donald Trump, and that works overwhelmingly in his favor. UFT endorsement is a dicey thing, because we've been so wrong so often against such incredible odds that I'm afraid to even think about it.

The most notable reference to retro came from LeRoy Barr, who said we have to wait two or three years for retro, and seemed to shrug it off as a minor inconvenience. Now that's true if you ignore the fact that we've been waiting for seven or eight years already. For those of us who support entire families on teacher salaries, for those of us who have college tuitions and exploding medical copays (which may not yet have exploded to full potential), it's hard to ignore those seven or eight years. It's hard to ignore tens of thousands of dollars owed me, for example. I'm guessing I'm not the only teacher who feels that way. This is based on frequent questions about when we're getting raises, and what on earth the various charts really mean.

Then there's a pet resolution of mine that hasn't been voted on for the last two months--the one that tries to place Regents marking back in school buildings. This has been problematic in my school, where my committee was approached with a threat--either proctor midterm exams during Regents week or we will make you teach! Gasp!!! Go ahead, we said. The following year they did indeed impose class midterms and proctoring during Regents week. This year they held classes during Regents exams. I got tons of complaints both years from teachers with no time to do end-of-term work.  Returning the grading to school would resolve this issue.

Of course high school priorities are not the priorities of leadership, which can't be bothered consulting the elected high school Executive Board about anything whatsoever. After all, we're just a bunch of teachers. We haven't got union jobs, we haven't signed loyalty oaths, and we often say what we think rather than what we're told. So rather than find time for something that might help us, and our union brothers and sisters, we spent ten minutes watching a tape from Saturday Night Live that was so widely distributed on Facebook I'd be surprised anyone on social media hadn't seen it. (Of course Mulgrew, despite his talk about hashtags and such, isn't on social media.)

As for high school teachers, you can't have upstarts like James Eterno voicing their opinions in "debates." Better to call for a single opposition POV from another person with views that will alienate most of the people listening. You let that person talk for a long time, and then claim there is no more need for differing views. That way you shut out people who've actually got experience with specific issues that may cast doubt on candidate de Blasio. James explains here why he disagrees with the endorsement, but no one at the Delegate Assembly, ostensibly governed by Robert's Rules, got to hear word one about it.

It was also interesting to hear Mulgrew casually admit that we were on the precipice of becoming a "Right to Work" country. I haven't got the remotest notion of what we do when that happens. As a chapter leader, will I be expected to represent people who shirk dues? Will UFT expect me to go out and try to sell the insular top-down leadership that shuts up James Eterno, the person a majority of high school teachers selected as Vice-President? I don't know.

I like de Blasio a little better than some people do. Of course I haven't seen the sea change over at Tweed I'd like to have seen. I was not particularly ecstatic about the contract that gets me paid two years after it expires, if I'm lucky. I don't blame de Blasio for the contract, though. It is, in fact, his job to try and get favorable terms for management. It's labor's job to get favorable terms for us. It seems to me de Blasio, despite being portrayed as a hippie commie weirdo, managed to negotiate the lowest pattern bargain in history. Mulgrew vehemently denied that at the contract-centered DA, and turned off Eterno's mike when he brought it up. But I've seen no evidence Eterno was wrong, and leadership hasn't offered any.

There was de Blasio's claim that tests don't matter that much, followed moments later by a boast that we're doing better with tests. I'm not sure he saw the irony there, but I won't fault him for it. I think de Blasio tried to face up to charters when he came in, but got very little support, including from UFT. When Eva got that ruling that the city had to pay charter rent if it didn't give them space, a very highly-placed source at NYSUT told me that my union President supported that move. While I haven't got evidence to support that notion, I've also seen absolutely none that UFT opposed it at the time. I didn't hear boo about it from leadership at the time.

I don't think we have a better alternative than de Blasio, especially now. I hope our early endorsement pays dividends. But the same people who speak of how wise this early endorsement is told me how wise the early Hillary endorsement was. We all know how that turned out. I certainly hope the UFT endorsement isn't the kiss of death it's been looking like in various mayoral races, and most spectacularly in the ascendancy of Trump and his gang of high-powered, not-so-smooth-talking thugs.

I'm also not persuaded that the support public school campaign is what's gonna help, even if they do it in Cleveland. It sounds very much the same as previous campaigns that went exactly nowhere. Nonetheless, I'd be happy to be proven wrong. In Spanish, they don't say, "I won't hold my breath," but rather, "Espero sentado."

I'll sit while I wait.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Today's Question

Where's that snowstorm? I usually wake up on days like today and blog about having to wonder whether the schools are open. However, I don't regret not having to spend four hours driving twenty miles to get home later today.

5:02--My dog just made me take him out and the snow is indeed around. It's very slippery and windy out there. I'm glad de Blasio didn't make us all wait and then turn back home, like Klein used to do.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

UFT Delegate Assembly--We Are Visited by the Mayor

Mulgrew calls us to order. 4:20

Mulgrew mentions we have one snow day this year. Says it’s a likely school day. If we have more than one snow day we will extend the year.

Mulgrew says let’s have some fun, plays Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer on video.

4:31 President’s Report


We now have most unqualified ever Sec. of Ed. Goal was to make sure everyone knew who DeVos was. Thinks we’ve accomplished that. Thanks two Senators from NY. Says they want to be strategic and have a long few years, but will try to let people know who DeVos is. Says she’s helped us by showing who she is.

We laugh, but it’s sad and terrifying. That we got two GOP to switch….says colleagues pushed. Senator from Alaska took 300K from DeVos and voted no. Says parents are beginning to think this is not good. Says she’s given word not to go after neighborhood schools, but President Numb Nuts and VP something won’t abide by it.

We need to use this process to portray her as unqualified. We did that, and state two is Public School Proud. Mulgrew asks who attended Women’s March, many hands. Shows photos of placards at march.

Shows photos of schools with Public School Proud, says hashtag popping up all over US. Shows tweets.

Says we are working with locals all over US. Says they want to move forward with this. Says no matter what your political POV is that you want to protect public schools. Says we wanted to give people a positive message to run with.

Asks for input on insignia. Black or white? Asks if we like pencil in insignia. One lined, one unlined. Shows designs for various groups. social workers, paraprofessionals.

Says schools have contacted him about making videos, will send videographers if there are large enough groups. Speaks of showing love for public schools on Valentine’s Day. Says it is not one-day event, but rather long, tough campaign.

Speaks of immigration, craziness, talk of safety from Trump. Likes that press is asking whether or not craziness is intended to distract. Says it isn’t fake news, but that’s he’s lying. Have not yet heard him say Trump’s name.

For us, DeVos has paid dividends in NY. Only Flanagan supported her, but he also came out against constitutional convention.

Mulgrew says one thing that would stop DeVos plans is anything about transparency. Says we will try to protect our state and city first, and focus on education. Says everything we believe in is on the line.
Why are GOP against transparency for charters? Because of funders.


Assembly has come out very strongly for complete funding of CFE, major expansion of millionaire tax. Says extension of millionaire tax will be tough, but we will need more revenue as we wait to see what feds do. If they mess with health care—he finally says President Trump—whether he likes it or not he is President. He says they aren’t repealing Obamacare so fast because they have no replacement. Says it’s done a lot of good to get people health care.

Lobby day March 14th.

Contract for Excellence—governor’s proposal wants to call it foundation aid, which has never been fully funded. Some ideas from Cuomo are good but we need other formula. Mulgrew will testify in Albany on Valentine’s Day. Says it’s not true NYC doesn’t fund schools and state is doing funding. Says this mayor has funded schools well.

Constitutional Convention—we cannot lose this issue. Cites commercials favoring it, appealing to cleaner environment, ethics, women’s rights. New talking point is we are going to change constitution without convention, and that it’s faster. Legislature will vote on pension forfeiture for elected officials. It will pass and go to general vote in NY.

Did we need convention for this? No. Do we need one for any of these issues? No. That is our strongest argument. Estimates 400 million cost for convention.


Mayor giving state of city address on Monday. Says he’s been positive on education. We still continue to struggle? Who likes their principal? More than normal, and that’s positive. Surveys for lukewarm and negative. Says we are seeing changes. From now on when principals says they’ll call legal, ask if it’s Karen Salamondo, who is now in labor relations. We have three grievances about paperwork and OPW we expect to win. Please let us know if it’s happening in your school. One school makes teachers teach during C6 assignment.

We have to make sure we’re doing right thing at local school level. Use paperwork grievance as tool if it’s problem in your building. We like paperwork process. Over 150 schools resolved unreasonable mandates. We cannot stop being vigilant on this. C6 not teaching period. Even Bloomberg didn’t do it.

Asks if anyone ever did cafe or hall duty. Says it used to be required. Says in 1995 it said we no longer had to clean up cafe or monitor halls. In return, we got C6. Is this happening elsewhere.

Last but not least, Mulgrew was very proud at AFT Executive Committee last week. Says he presented Public School Proud, and that other locals adopted it. He said they lit up with things to go back to in their states. Says they didn’t want to ask for another petition against DeVos, but rather something else. Says he wishes he could film it so we could see what’s happening outside the city.

Says we aren’t just fighting a governor or mayor, that these are really bad people, but we are nimble and move quickly. Says we will produce a storm of parents and teachers across country. Says this is the work that will make a difference. Says mayor is champion of public education, and to imagine Bloomberg and Klein under this scenario. Says Arne Duncan wasn’t that bad, and he’s surprised to be saying it.

Says what you’ve done already is important, we’ve reached goal number one, we now have friends picketing Senators saying you are responsible for DeVos. Goal two is to spread this energy and bring it across US. Ends report 5:05.

Staff Director Report  Leroy Barr—UFT Black History film series, two more films, 13th on Monday, Rising from the Rails coming. Says discussion has been great. NYS Black and Puerto Rican Caucus on 18th. Paraprofessional awards March 18, deadline March 3rd. High schools future and focus March 9th for 10 and 11 grade students. Early childhood conference March 11th. Labor seder, March 28. School secretary luncheon May 6. Next DA March 22.


CL—How can we involve members in endorsements?

UFT controls city endorsements, NYSUT state, AFT national. Uses politically active teachers. Let political action department know. Exec. Board recommends to DA, DA decides.

Delegate—Can we get buses to DC to welcome Betsy?

I think we will wait to see what she does. Is she as good as Cathie Black? I wouldn’t let her speak publicly. If there is a need, we will go.

Exec Board member—What happens when principals don’t want to deal with CL?

You need intervention. If it rises up in DOE, they cannot sustain it’s a good idea. Contractual obligation to confer. If supe won’t stop action, will go from borough rep to central. Some CLs don’t want to deal with principal, feels that’s a disservice, lapse of responsibility. Says we have fun with that.

CL—After many notifications about paras not doing lunch duty, principals still scheduling it. What are we doing to ensure that IEPs, notifications are kept.

Principals were notified recently that principals have to arrange for paras to have duty free lunch. We sent it out again after supes reinterpreted it from last year. Said obligated didn’t mean we couldn’t do it. Paras may not be in lunchroom unless IEP calls for it.

CL—Our acting president proposed national right to work law. How do we protect pensions, collective bargaining, dues checkoff?

Unless there is a big shift…things can change…we will all be right to work sooner or later. Will it leave states to decide when 1975 decision is overturned? We have legal people and strategists thinking about it. 27 RTW states. NY and CA, MA union strongholds. Believes it will happen, and we have to organize. At AFT exec. committee, we help RTW states organize. Says elections matter.

CL—Charters use space as leverage to get into buildings. Is there anything union is doing that’s similar? My school utilized at 186% and we aren’t co-located. We have portables. Is there an arbitration, and if not, how can we get more construction for schools that need it?

Schools do not fall under OSHA regulations. Otherwise, would kick in, Mayor has upped school seats by 35k. We are winning argument as more people move to NY. Populations go up and down in neighborhoods. Will they build seats in right places? We will be part of process. We propose that if you aren’t transparent and accountable you can’t get free space—OR if you have assets of over one million—you should not have access. This is where DeVos is important. She did this in Michigan. Overcrowding destabilizes schools.

Q—We do a lot of advertising. We have great art and music teachers and should have a marketing department to have jingles or commercials people will talk about, like Super Bowl commercials. Let’s market aggressively. Any progress on ESL teachers scoring? We've seen fake news under Reagan, was called misinformation.

We want to move with public school proud. I would be good with jingle.

Motions 5:26

For this month, not enough copies, on Chancellor’s letter on immigration. We need to take action now to protect our students and their families. Seconded.

Voted down, after people on dais indicated they were against it.

Mulgrew says we’ve passed more resolutions on this topic than anything but education.

Dave Pecoraro—one line reso—resolved that UFT oppose Judge Gorsich and that senators filibuster against. Says seat was stolen, vacated during Obama admin, says he founded fascist club, ruled on Hobby Lobby.

Carmen Alvarez—supports energy but says we must be judicious. We shouldn’t react, but we should build and keep momentum building our unity.

Voted down. Mulgrew says he will reach out to AFT and Senators to see how they want to handle it.

Resolutions 5:33

Mulgrew moves to do 2 and 3 first. So moved.

City council endorsement—Paul Egan—special election Valentine’s Day. Recommend Bill Perkins, has been great for UFT.

Passes overwhelmingly.

Mel Aaronson—recommends we endorse Tom Brown. We will vote on Constitutional Convention that could jeopardize retirement benefits. Wants someone to lead fight. Mulgrew forgets to hold vote, is called.

Endorsed unanimously.

Moves to go to number 4. Passes.

Howard Schoor—Children we teach in danger of being deported. We want to make sure students safe from outside forces. Urges support. Hopes no speakers against. Mulgrew forgets to have us vote on resolution, is reminded.


LeRoy Barr—speaks of mayoral endorsement. Says we decided to endorse Democrat, that GOP was largely against us, based on past 20 years. Said we needed to endorse now, as other unions have endorsed. Wanted UFT endorsement to mean something. Voted unanimously to endorse de Blasio. Said we remember where we came from, 20 years prior to his being mayor. Mentions years without contract. Said if you have to wait two or three years for retro you’re getting every dime.

Mulgrew moves to allow committee members to speak. Passes.

Antoinette Offucio—Says they looked at positives, all he did, preK, economy, 98% of all unionized contracts done fairly—ours ends in 2018. We looked at affordable housing. Standing against Trump in sanctuary city status, even if we lose money. Says de Blasio is a friend of unions, good for us.

Grier Hanson Velasquez—After surviving Bloomberg and Giuliani, to be recognized and respected, valued—didn’t happen until de Blasio. Says he’s stood against charters with us. Feel it’s in our best interest to endorse now.

Marjorie Stamberg—Says we absolutely do not need a Democrat, particularly de Blasio, Dems and GOP twin parties of capitalism. Trump is misogynist racist, pig. Democrats brought every imperialist war. Record of dems on deportation is 3 million. De Blasio has not supported us against charters, fell apart against Eva Presided over police acquittal in Eric Garner. We need our own worker’s party.

LeRoy Barr takes chair—calls Mulgrew.

Mulgrew— disagrees with speaker. Appreciates committee. Says it was bipartisan. Says it’s easy to forget what happened for two decades. This is someone whose soul and spirit is with us. We had horrendous battles. Mayor tried to do everything in venal way, and Giuliani crazier even than we thought, Bloomberg though education should be privatized. We fought him in streets. Big story was how de Blasio would settle contracts—settled with us first. PreK for all, literacy push, sound educational policies based on research.

We survived, battled governor, our new friend. Have never had battle like this. Blessed to have this mayor who will stand with every single public school teacher. So many people don’t have that. He will get bad press from Post for this endorsement. Bill de Blasio has always said public education is key, and we must respect those who’ve dedicated lives to it. That’s why UFT should do this today, right now. He’s going to war, standing with us, as we go to war in United States.

Point of order—James Eterno—says there should be speaker against.

LeRoy Barr says Robert’s Rules say body may call and end debate. Says chair would be out of order if I called to end debate, but body may call. We want to be judicious and hear speaker against, there was a speaker for quite some time against. Body doesn’t choose who goes next, calls on Gregg Lundahl.

Lundahl calls question.

Note: UFT leadership didn't follow Robert's Rules and allow Eterno to present his opinion, but you can see it right here.

Mulgrew asks applause for Barr.

Endorsement passes. 6:01 PM.

Mulgrew says we are not adjourned. Bill de Blasio is here. Crowd chants four more years. De Blasio says he and his families have been to public schools. Talks about what it means to have teachers who help kids reach potential. Disgusted by political sport of denigrating teachers and unions. Says we saw it for years. Remembers tuning into conventions where denigrating teachers was part of program. Tolerated for years. No more. We’ve proved over last three years it’s morally right to respect teachers.

We’re going to fight for soul of public education. You saw what happened in DC. We were teetering on brink until VP intervened. Will we commit to public education as a nation? Or are we going to slowly slice it apart, degrade and undermine it? That’s what’s at stake.

Education matters more than ever. It determines destiny more than at any point in human history. If you want a middle class life, you’d better be educated. Public schools hold the key. How can we denigrate people who uplift our children. Public schools core of democratic society.

I want to thank you for work that you do. 1% trying to destroy rights of working people. This union will fight that.

Very proud of what’s happened, but proud to have joined you in creating pre-K for all. You had to do work to raise grad rate. Proud it’s highest ever, and we’re moving away from obsession with high stakes testing. We believe in multiple measures. But test scores go up as result of people in this room.

We can innovate, we do teacher training because people deserve support. We need to support those who do this essential work. We achieved this together in contract. Those who’ve done work well should run the schools.

We are proving how powerful this is, and how dangerous to our opponents that we keep achieving together. Opponents were sure it would go wrong. What did we do together? We’ve moved forward in ways they couldn’t even imagine.

Now when you look to Washington, we will fight and look at NYC as proof positive. We are held accountable by public and parents. We keep performing and holding up. Some don’t want to be accountable. Some charters have been hoisted on own petard. But we all have one standard here. This debate in this country will be about that if we prove what traditional public schools can do for all. Everyone has to be inclusive. We don’t turn away handicapped or ELLs. No one here would kick a student out for not testing well. We believe in reaching those students We prove privatizers, anti-unionists wrong every day. Why don’t we keep succeeding together?

Thanks us.

Adjourned 6:16